Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Choose a Church

How should you choose a church? Many Christians are living disconnected from a church today, despite the continuous biblical command for us to gather together regularly in worship and the many benefits that come to us and to others from being deeply connected in a church. (did you know that the health benefits are the same between stopping smoking and being deeply connected to a church?) Of course part of that is choosing a "church that doesn't suck...the life out of you." (as we like to say)

So how do we choose? I think many of our frustrations are that we don't make good choices as to what we think we want or need. We are just terrible architects of our own happiness and meeting our own needs. So here are some thoughts on what I hope will be a helpful guide in choosing a local church body to connect to.

1. PRAY - in praying surrender all of your expectations and opinions as to what you think a "good church for you" would look like. Confess that He is Lord and that you will follow where He leads. Our lives are His...we must do more than simply confess this.

2. Do they continually lift up Jesus? Is Jesus (not the stuff of Jesus) central to everything they do?

3. Do they honor and celebrate God's Word as the foundation for understanding who God is? (in today's world you must check out a church's statement of beliefs. Is the church you are considering faithful to the historic creeds (Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed) of the Christian faith?)

4. Do they welcome the Holy Spirit into their services? (this may take various forms, but is He welcomed?)

5. Do they disciple and equip people to live lives that minister inside and outside of the church?

6. (If appropriate) Is ministry to and equipping of my children a core value of the church?

7. Does the church have a burden to be an agent of social justice both locally and globally? (missions, ministry to the poor, serving the community, etc)

8. Ask: "Is there a way for me to not only grow in my giftings, but also to invest those giftings back into the community?"

9. Does the church have a good website? (What?! The reason for this is because if a church has not made the investment into a good web site, it means that they are disconnected from modern culture and are less than passionate about reaching people today with the Gospel of Jesus Christ)

10. Is your intention to find a place to go and hide in the crowd or find meaningful relationships that will help me grow and I in turn can help others?

11. Is this church dwelling on the past, or are they committed to engaging the world today in love with the counter-cultural message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

12. Are the people (including the pastor(s)) living authentic lives as Christ-followers? (In other words, is there a disconnect between church life and real life? Or are the various people (whatever level of spiritual maturity they may be at) striving for authenticity in their everyday life of faith?)

Remember, there is no "perfect church." You won't find that until Heaven. At some point you will most likely get offended wherever you wind up...churches are filled with people after all. Don't take the bait of Satan in your offense and break community. Be courageous. Determine that you are going to allow the Lord to bear greater fruit in your life with kindness, patience, gentleness, etc. (Gal 5:22-23) That doesn't happen in isolation or by watching your favorite preacher on tv...

Make the leap and join a community of believers today! They need you and you need them!!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Why Put the Tree in the Garden?"

So someone brought up something recently that I'd like to respond to. I've never heard any good teaching or explanation on this, so this will be my attempt to think it out...publicly.

There is a situation that can and has created offense within people's hearts toward God regarding our roots in the Garden of Eden. The question has been asked, "Why would God put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (aka the Forbidden Fruit) in the Garden if Adam and Eve were not to touch it?" It has been likened by some people to "putting a hand grenade in a crib." Initially this seems like a cruel thing to do. It is an easy jump to make in our minds. We think "if something can cause pain or destruction, keep it far away." We would all say, "yes, of course!"

So why, as God is forming creation, would he put this tree there? Why not put it outside the Garden somewhere? Why put it in the center of the Garden next to the Tree of Life? Whether your views on the Garden are metaphorical or more literal, the question still stands.

I guess I would start by pointing a few things out.

1. Sin had not yet entered into the world. Adam and Eve did not struggle with their broken fallen sinful natures like we do all the time, even after being born again. So we must keep in mind that this was not like dangling a beer in front of someone who is an alcoholic struggling to break free. There was free will, yes, and along with free will there is always choice, but our First Parent's "wanters" were not broken (yet).

2. I mentioned free will. Here's where we hit some controversy. I would argue that choosing holiness or good is dependent upon there being an alternative choice. A choice to embrace good through obeying God or a choice to rebel and declare our autonomy from our Creator. I am not suggesting that good is dependent upon evil (i.e. Yin-Yang) or any such nonsense as some Christians seem to embrace these days. I merely suggest to have choice you must have at least two things to choose from. In this case it was enjoy goodness and perfection innocently without the pull of a sinful nature, or choose to heed the tempter's voice (external influence) and disobey God. Removing choice would not have been a good option as it would remove an integral part of what it means to be created in image of God. After all, we cannot love God (or anyone) and be in relationship with Him (His continuing intentions) except that we choose to do so.

Simple initial thoughts for a complex question. I may add to this posting at some point as I reflect on it more.

UPDATE: (2/17/10)
3. The Leadership Perspective
Adam and Eve had been given dominion over all of creation. (Gen 1:26,28) They were to rule and reign over everything God had created as stewards. As a rule, leadership is always tested. The one restraint given to these stewards by way of command they could not keep. They were not owners, only stewards. The "hand grenade in the crib" argument doesn't work because they were not ignorant or children. They were innocent yes, but they were fully formed adults with an intellect far beyond our own (Adam named every single creature in creation!). And as I said before they were perfect, whole and complete. There was no sinful nature affecting them then that even affects the most innocent of us...our children. (no one has to teach children to fight over toys)